Orkney was one of the most important British naval bases in both world wars and for most of this period was a hive of activity on land, sea and in the air.
RNAS and RAF air bases were scattered across the islands and thousands of sorties were flown by aircraft from these airfields. Tragically, some planes did not return to base and now lie in the waters around Orkney.
In 1986, one of the lost planes from World War II was located by HMS Bildeston, HMS Gavinton and Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service craft Kinloss on the seabed of Scapa Flow during a military exercise. Unfortunately, the aircraft disintegrated as it was recovered, but a Merlin aero engine was brought to the surface, cleaned up and together with the aeroplane’s armament was sent to Lyness Museum. The remainder of the aircraft remained on the sea floor.
During 2014, Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology and Sula Diving completed a collaborative project surveying the archaeological remains on the seabed of Scapa Flow. The wreck site was re-visited in order to video, photograph and record the remains. The wreckage itself lies in 22 metres of water and is likely to be from the cockpit area of a single seater aircraft. No human remains were identified, indicating that the pilot escaped before ditching.
An oxygen regulator, oxygen tanks, hydraulic pump, oxygen/hydraulic pipe work, wiring and some fuselage were recorded amongst numerous steel and aluminium sections. Gauges recovered many years ago suggest that the aircraft is a Spitfire manufactured after 1943…so the crash must have occurred after this date.
However the details of the crash remain a mystery. There does not seem to be any mention of a Spitfire ditching in this area during World War II. Even the aircraft registration number cannot be confirmed from the artefacts recovered.
For now, the Spitfire and pilot’s identity remains a mystery……………..unless anyone reading this knows anything different? This aircraft, in common with the remains of all military aircraft and designated military vessels, is now covered by the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986.
For more information see http://www.crashsiteorkney.com/mystery-aircraft-in-scapa-flow
Thanks to Kevin Heath at Sula Diving http://www.suladiving.com/
This blog has been created by Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology in beautiful Orkney. We aim to add features and news about our work on the islands and further afield on a regular basis.